Nov/Dec 2011 Home Court Dave Pond
In the tight-knit community of Middleburg, Fla., residents have a history of showing support and commitment to their neighbors. So when Middleburg High School Volleyball Coach Carrie Prewitt got word that one of her players and her two younger sisters were headed for foster care, she knew what God was calling her to do.
After initially meeting Ashley, Taylor and Gina Brewer through volleyball—Ashley was a defensive specialist and outside hitter for the Broncos, and all three girls had participated in Prewitt’s camps—Prewitt had developed a bond with the sisters that went beyond the court. When the Brewer girls, who were dealing with the drugrelated deaths of their mother and father, became burdened with the additional possibility of being separated from one another, Prewitt found herself making a decision that would take all of their faiths to a deeper level.
Before placing the girls in separate homes, the Department of Children and Families approached Prewitt and asked if she would be willing to assume permanent custody of the Brewer siblings.
“My rational side initially said, ‘How can I handle this? I’m a single woman and didn’t have kids,’” said Prewitt, who had previously led Middleburg’s FCA Huddle for more than 15 years. “After I prayed about it, though, I knew there was no way I was going to say no. God just kind of took over and essentially said, ‘We’ll figure it out; just take care of the kids.’ They needed to be with someone who knew them and loved them, and they needed to know that they were going to be OK.”
On the Friday after Thanksgiving in 2008, Prewitt and the girls sat down for a dinner-table conversation that Prewitt prayed would both break the tension and lay the groundwork for them to come together as family. Knowing the sisters were unsure of the situation, Prewitt wanted to provide an environment of peace from the start.
In order to establish good communication, she asked the girls to write down all of their questions and place them in a big bowl at the center of the table. Then, together, they proceeded to unfold each one and discuss it openly and honestly.
“We talked for three hours,” Prewitt said. “Taylor and Gina especially were scared, angry and not sure about what was going on, so, we just covered everything from what they’d eat for snacks to bedtime to what we would call each other. It was a really comprehensive discussion.”
Even though they were already acquainted through volleyball, there was still an adjustment period that needed to take place after Prewitt assumed care of the girls. It would take time for the coach and her new daughters to come together as a family.
“It was definitely a little weird because we’d always seen her as a volleyball coach before that,” said Taylor, a Middleburg freshman who attended FCA Leadership Camp in St. Simon’s Island, Ga., this summer. “Seeing her as a mom was a little different, but we clicked pretty quickly. We were able to get really close and enjoy being around each other. Now, it just feels right. We really belong to each other.”
The new situation also came with logistical issues. Ashley, Taylor and Gina were to join Prewitt in her doublewide trailer, which she had previously shared only with her dogs.
Soon, being part of a tight-knit community played into their favor, as citizens of Middleburg—many of whom had known Prewitt through her work on the court and in the classroom—took note of their circumstances. Desiring to help one of their own, the small town rallied around the women and nominated the blended Prewitt-Brewer family for ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
To the delight of Middleburg, show host Ty Pennington showed up at a volleyball practice in January during club season to announce the event and set off the rapid-fire construction. For Prewitt and her girls, it also meant a weeklong vacation to the Virgin Islands.
When they returned to Middleburg from their time of beachfront bonding, the Prewitt-Brewer family received keys to a new home—one that gave the girls their own spaces while allowing them to continue growing and thriving together.
“They’d never lived in a home with rooms of their own,” Prewitt said. “Every place where they had lived, people had needed to rearrange things in order to fit them in. So, this was truly special for us. And because everything in our new home—from the materials to the labor—was donated by our community, it gave us a special sense of belonging. I really feel the amount of grace that was given and the amount of love that has been poured into us.”
Members of the community felt the same way and considered it an honor to be involved.
“I feel so blessed that they are part of my life. I never truly understood God’s grace until we began this journey.”
According to Carson Fellows, associate pastor of senior high students at Middleburg’s First Baptist Church, Prewitt’s sacrifice helped reveal Christianity in its most simple form.
“The example that Carrie showed was that ministry opportunities are always right around you,” he said. “She saw a need and knew someone had to step up. She prayed about it and was obedient to the Lord, and I believe He honored and blessed her for that.”
The opportunity to open her home to Ashley, Taylor and Gina also helped Prewitt connect with God in a new way as she watched Him reveal His plan for her life—one that took a dramatic turn from what she had imagined while growing up in Illinois.
“My motivation for leaving Illinois had been to get out of the winters,” she said with a laugh. “I came down here not knowing a soul, but, once I got here, I just fell in love with Middleburg. I’d wanted to teach and coach ever since I was in seventh grade, so it was a perfect opportunity. My own teachers and coaches had made a huge impact on me, and I wanted to be able to make the same kind of impact on my students.”
Over the years, as she developed her aptitude for coaching, Prewitt watched her players begin showing improved skills on the court. To her, it provided spiritual evidence that God was guiding her path.
After being raised in the church, Prewitt had believed in Christ, but hadn’t experienced a true relationship with Him before moving to Florida.
“I’d been very intimidated by the Bible and just felt like I’d go to Heaven if I was a good person who tried to do the right things and treat people the right way,” she said. “But I didn’t understand the true message of salvation until I got to Middleburg.”
Prewitt’s relationship with Christ lined up as a testament to 1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)—a verse that encourages youth to set an example of faith—as she was introduced to the concept through the influence of her student-athletes.
“It came from watching my players who were living the Christian life standing solid in their beliefs and encouraging me,” said Prewitt, who made the connection with Christ in February 1990. “Watching them made me curious and hungry for what was inspiring them to be who they were.”
Prewitt took another step toward deepening her faith when she assumed leadership of Middleburg’s FCA Huddle later that same year. Although she no longer leads it, she remains active in FCA by attending camps, conferences and meetings across the region and going to the school’s Huddle meetings as often as her teaching—and parenting—schedule allows.
“I don’t think I’d be where I am spiritually if it wasn’t for FCA,” she said. “There’s something special about being a coach or an athlete and taking what you know from sports and applying it to your Christian life. As coaches and athletes, we have responsibilities and opportunities to influence others understanding that it’s not what they do for us but what God asks us to do for them and how we can influence them for Christ. Being able to do that through FCA was really exciting for me.”
Donna Noonan, FCA’s National Director of Events, said she was immediately struck by the coach’s gentle and humble spirit when they met at the American Volleyball Coaches Association Convention.
“After a few minutes of talking, I could sense Carrie’s love for Jesus and her desire to have a lasting impact on her players,” said Noonan, who served at the FCA booth and ministry events during the convention. “When she first told the story about her girls, I was awestruck by her willingness to open her heart and her home. The Lord has certainly honored that, and it is inspiring to see how He has built them into a thriving family.”
Now, as a mother of three who continues to cultivate that thriving family, Prewitt sees both big events and everyday occurrences as a way of continuing to draw closer in her relationship with Christ and give Him thanks for the gift of her daughters.
“My spiritual walk has been enriched because of these girls,” she said. “I have so many opportunities to share my faith with them and for them to do the same with me because we are a family. I feel so blessed that they are part of my life. I never truly understood God’s grace until we began this journey. His grace showers you not because you deserve it, but because He chooses to bless you. And that’s evident in what has happened to me and my family.”
Her daughters agree. For Taylor, God’s blessings drive home a confirmation, that, without Him, they’d be lost—literally and spiritually.
“We’d probably be separated at this point, and I don’t know if my relationship with God would be as strong or even exist anymore,” Taylor said. “The more things you go through, the easier it is for you to get angry and pull away from God, but [Prewitt] has taught us to pull toward Him through everything. Because of that, I never doubted that He was there for us.”
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Courtesy of Russell Martin Photography